Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spider updates

Well, ding dong it! Our argiope in the Indigo spires is not a yellow argiope (Argiope aurantia) but a banded argiope (Argiope trifasciata)!! When I shot her October 19, I didn't see her topside, a dead giveaway to the species. However, I should have noticed the difference in leg markings. Oh, well. Now I know! I bet I haven't seen this species in our area for 10 years or more! Typically, I see yellow argiopes, which by this time of year are HUGE on their webs.

Checked on the green lynx children, and they're growing bigger. The mother wasn't around....

Click on the photo and you can see (barely) that the
spiderlings–like adults–have long spines on their legs.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mandarin time!

Yesterday, we picked our first three mandarins from our Texas satsuma tree (Citrus unshiu 'Miho'). Not a great photo of mine peeled. But it sure tasted good! (For more on the potted tree, see August 2, 2008 post.) There's at least 17 or so yet to be picked.

James was more artistic with arranging his mandarin slices...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

House guest

"What's that?" Lindsey asked Tuesday, glancing up at the ceiling in our dining room.

"A crab spider, duh," I replied. Lindsey's lived with me long enough to know a spider when she sees one. She's also pretty good at identifying them herself.

At any rate, we all acknowledged the crab spider's lurking, upside-down presence. I'd wave sometimes when breezing by. No big deal. The species is completely harmless. Except to insect victims.

Speaking of which, today I realized that spider up there on our ceiling has NOT been catching bugs, even though it always perched with its legs ready to spring. So I shot a photo, then gently nudged it onto my finger. You should have seen me twisting into unnatural positions to photograph (one handed) the spider on my finger in the sunlight just right. But I got him! Then I carried him outside, figuring I'd get some environmental shots, too. Nope! As soon as I let him go on a fence post, he was gone!

And yes, our house guest was a male. How do I know? In the bottom photo, you can see his pedipalps (the extra appendages near his mouth). The tips are clubbed. That how you sex a spider.

Wish list

The fall asters in our neighbors' yard across street have been blooming the past couple of weeks. So beautiful! Awhile ago, I strolled over with my camera to see what kinds of insects the flowers attract. Butterflies and bees, of course. In a split second, I caught a clouded sulphur skirmishing with a bee (below). Fortunately, neither one won.

James and I have talked about planting our own fall asters to add more fall colors. So I'm putting them on our wish list, along with agarita and/or possumhaw.

Birth announcements in the esperanza!

Today's the day! The green lynx (Peucetia viridans) on the esperanza is a mom! She's kept a faithful vigil, and now she'll likely die in the next few days or weeks. See the hole in the top right quarter of the eggsac? That's where the spiderlings are emerging...

Click on the photo for a better look!
You can also see four of the mom's eight eyes.

Above, a tiny orange child is right beneath her right legs (our right, not hers). Its abdomen comes fat with reserves so it can survive its first several days without food. Later it'll balloon away (send out a silken thread and float away on the breeze), scramble away or get eaten by a bigger spider or insect. In the photo below, an orange spiderling can barely be seen in the eggsac hole.

Later in the afternoon, more spiderlings are emerging!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Salvia updates

Generally speaking, I don't like to cut plants. Seems harsh and a bit painful if you're on the plant end. But I know many thrive and grow even more beautiful with thoughtful pruning. Like salvias. I've read and been told that it's best to trim salvias back a third after they've bloomed. The payoff: they'll supposedly bloom again.

A couple of weeks ago, I did just that. I took my little pink scissors outside and snipped snipped snipped. Then while I was gone last week, we got nearly 2 inches of rain. Halleluyah! Now look at the salvias! Just as promised, they've bloomed bloomed bloomed! 

On August 22, we planted three Salvia farinacea 'Indigo Spires' in our front yard. I really thought it was too late in the summer to plant anything. Check out my post for that day, "New additions," and look at the photo of one. In the beginning, they looked really scraggly. Now take a look at them......

Ever since we planted them, they haven't stopped growing and blooming. In our Wildscape, the Indigo spires are among my favorite plants. They also attract a lot of insects and spiders, which I photographed a few days ago. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Death in The Sanctuary

Every day's an adventure. That's what I so love about our ever-evolving Wildscape. Whenever I step outside for a break, I always see something new. Yesterday, I got down on my knees and eye-to-eye with a lovely monarch. It didn't seem to mind me being so close. I watched quietly while it slipped its long, thin proboscis (mouth) up and down within a blue mistflower. As I crouched, I could even hear the wingbeats of nearby queens and monarchs.

Awhile ago, I strolled past The Sanctuary, a corner area in the back yard that we let grow free. After surveying the bird bath and brush, I leaned over and peered down into the hole that's been there since summer. Hmm, only blackness. I should get a flashlight, I thought. Wonder where the owner is? Last August 20, I shot photos of the six-legged digger, blogged about our encounter, and surmised the critter to be an ox beetle (Strategus aloeus). Today, my glance wandered a bit further beyond a water plate we set out for toads....

"Awwww." A dead body lay upside down atop the leaf litter.

Alas, our secretive ox beetle had up and died. But he shall not go unnoticed or forgotten. Now I had my chance to photograph him from any angle I wanted. And I did.

First sight

How he might have looked climbing into his hole

Front view

Side view (the humps indicate that he's a male)

Farewell, friend

Sunday, October 19, 2008

So much life

I've been surprised to discover that fall triggers as much color and activity in our Wildscape as spring. Yesterday, I observed an abundance of butterflies, spiders, and insects among the flowers and leaves. What I find especially wonderful and gratifying is that as soon as we plant something new (like our indigo spires), wildlife of some kind moves in! Just look and see...

An unidentified skipper on the blue mistflowers...

Another unknown skipper on the indigo spires...

Lindsey artfully photographed a spotted cucumber beetle on the indigo spires.

Not a great photo, but it shows the brilliant colors of
a spicebush swallowtail that I saw flitting among the Salvia cocinnea blossoms...

A sulphur species on the indigo spires...

A rather large ant species on the esperanza...

CORRECTION This is a broad-headed bug nymph
(Read "ShaZAM!!" February 23, 2011)

Among the indigo spires, I was delighted to find a young female garden spider.
By this time of year, they're usually fully mature and BIG. She's got a ways to grow
before our cold weather arrives. I'm wondering if she'll even have time
to mate and lay an egg sac.

Not far from the garden spider on the indigo spires, I spotted a green lynx thick "with children." She looks ready to lay her own egg sac ANY DAY now! I'm going to keep an eye out for it.

On an esperanza, James found an egg sac. When he showed it to me, we found
the mother–like all good green lynx females–guarding it.

I had to share a photo of the bougainvillea in bloom. And alas, I was going to trash the "red berries" photo, but I decided to post that, too. Why? Because we have to cut it down. Pyracanthas (Pyracantha coccinea) are invasive and should not be part of a Texas Wildscape. It's a volunteer that grows on our adjoining lot.

I'm gonna sweetly ask James to "do the deed" when I'm not around.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

An owl!

"I can't believe it! Go get your camera!" James exclaimed while we were outside in the back yard earlier this afternoon. I swiveled around and looked up into the oaks.....an eastern screech owl! It found the new nesting box we put up a few months ago! I'm guessing it's Al, Agatha's mate. She nested in our other box earlier this year. What a wonderful sight! Cliff Shackelford, who hand builds Owl Shacks like ours, told me that's what would likely happen: the male will find the nearby box and use it for roosting in the fall and winter.

In the meantime, James has been busy on a new project, well within Al's sights. But the owl doesn't mind our presence at all. In fact, I stood right under him to shoot my photos. He barely blinked at me. Sometimes the chickadees and titmice mob any owls they see roosting, but no one's bothered him so far. Lucky for him.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2008–UPDATE–I stepped outside around noon to check on the owl box in the oaks (our first owl box is attached to an abandoned utility pole). Sure enough, an owl was perched in the opening. As I walked closer, though, it stepped back and disappeared within the box. That reaction makes me think that I saw the female this time.

Thinking back to last spring, at first the owl didn't care if we stood underneath the box. Then it'd act skittish and disappear. Two distinctly different behaviors. Which led me to surmise that we had two owls using the box. Thus, I attributed Al as the laid-back, c'mon-over guy and Agatha as the nervous, go-away gal.

They've both found the new box!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Variegated fritillary (I think)

Hmm, trying to figure out the species. I'm going with variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia). Someone prove me wrong. Please! I want to KNOW the correct name.

Lorilee, that's blue mistflowers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

More caterpillars

Today has been such a beautiful day. I carried some reading materials and letters to write so I could sit outside and still be productive. Then I wandered around by the bed of lantanas and Salvia coccineas in the front yard. A butterfly fluttering near the passionflower vines caught my eye. Looked like a Gulf fritillary to me. I'd noticed some caterpillars on the passionflowers recently, which got me to thinking. Could those caterpillars be the larvae of Gulf fritillary butterflies?

A quick look on the Internet, and I was back out the door with my trusty camera. I got one decent shot of the butterfly, then I snapped several of the caterpillars, all in different stages of growth. Ugly things, but kinda pretty, too.

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, passionflowers (Passiflora incarnata) are a larval plant for Gulf fritillaries. BugGuide.Net also has a photo of a Gulf fritillary caterpillar.

In the past, we might have smashed'em cuz they're eating our vines. Now we know to let them be.